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Working group acquires resources to decrease human-bear conflict in La Plata County

A resource officer will help enforce ordinance, and a hotline will help monitor sightings
The Bear Working Group received a $206,000 Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant that will be used to acquire resources to mitigate human-bear conflict. (Courtesy of Bear Smart Durango)

La Plata County is cracking down on bear enforcement. In 2022, the Bear Working Group of Durango received Colorado Parks and Wildlife Human-Bear Conflict Reduction Grant, allowing it to fund a slew of resources designed to mitigate human-bear conflicts.

Among the resources acquired are a countywide bear hotline, a bear resource officer and bear-resistant infrastructure.

“Getting these resources is huge,” said Bryan Peterson, director of Bear Smart Durango, “(They) have the potential to create a seismic shift in human-bear conflict reduction.”

Peterson said the BWG has developed a multiyear Greater Durango Human-Bear Challenge Initiative. The initiative is aimed at connecting community members with information and resources to mitigate human-bear conflicts.

In La Plata County, human-bear conflict is a countywide issue. That’s why the BWG strives to include a wide variety of perspectives.

The group’s membership is comprised of representatives from Bear Smart Durango, the city of Durango, La Plata County, CPW, wildlife organizations, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and local waste haulers.

“There’s a lot of good voices represented,” said John Livingston, Southwest Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman. “It’s a great way for everyone across the county to have a voice and tap into those resources as they become available.”

In 2022, with the financial assistance provided by the $206,000 CPW grant, BWG launched phase one of its Human-Bear Challenge Initiative.

La Plata County Animal Protection hired a bear resource officer who began work on May 2. The officer’s duties include enforcing the county’s bear and trash ordinance, distributing loaner mitigation materials to county residents experiencing human-bear conflict and responding to the newly established La Plata County bear hotline.

Additionally, the grant will fund materials to build 60 electric fences, 500 residential bear-resistant trash cans, 37 all-metal bear-resistant trash cans, 20 all-metal food storage lockers, and the hiring of two part-time fruit gleaning coordinators.

All-metal trash container at Vallecito Lake funded by the 2022 CPW grant. (Courtesy of the City of Durango)

Livingston said that most urban human-bear conflicts arise when bears are brought into town by the aroma of attractants.

Attractants can include anything bears perceive as food including trash, water sources, livestock, pet food and fruit.

“By removing attractants and making sure our spaces are clean, we can do a really good job at keeping bears out of residential areas,” Livingston said.

The materials acquired by the BWG fall into two categories: permanent infrastructure and temporary mitigation materials.

The permanent structures include bear-proof trash cans and food-storage lockers that are being distributed to county schools, residential areas and campgrounds.

The mitigation materials are intended to be lent to county residents experiencing frequent bear conflicts.

They include temporary electric fencing kits, bear-resistant containers, alarm-driven scare devices and “unwelcome mats.”

Unwelcome mats come in two designs, Peterson said. One version has nails driven through a piece of wood and the other consists of an electrified slab of metal.

“These materials aren’t meant to be permanent,” Peterson said. “The hope is that bears will get the gist and realize they are unwelcome.”

Example of an electric “unwelcome mat” in northern Durango. (Courtesy of Bryan Peterson/ Bear Smart Durango)
La Plata County bear hotline

Peterson said the county’s bear hotline is crucial for connecting residents to resources.

“Its all very symbiotic,” he said.

The bear hotline will encourage people to call in their sightings, which helps the Animal Control officer connect them with resources.

Additionally, the hotline will help CPW track bear presence within the county, a prospect Livingston believes will greatly aid the agency.

“Our hope is that the new bear hotline helps the public gain quick access to the resources they need and that it helps CPW better capture the full scope of all bear reports coming in from across the county,” wrote Livingston in an email to The Durango Herald. “In years past, some of that information has not reached CPW. As the agency tasked with managing bears in the state, it is critical for CPW’s data keeping to be aware of all bear sightings, incidents and conflicts so we can keep our finger on the pulse of the community. The sooner CPW learns of bear incidents, the better it is not only for humans but the bears, too.”

The hotline is live, Peterson said. It can be reached by calling (970) 247-BEAR (2327). Initial traffic has been slow, but things are starting to pick up.

High-moisture springs can create abundant natural food sources for bears, keeping them in the mountains and out of residential areas, Livingston said.

While bear reports are down 60% from 2022, there is no guarantee the trend will continue through the summer.

“One thing we always caution about this time of year is a late freeze,” Livingston said. “That could be detrimental to that berry and acorn crop up in the high country.”

However, if temperatures remain above freezing, and the county experiences a second consecutive good monsoon season, Livingston believes opportunities for bear-human conflicts could stay low.

“That’ll really help keep the bears up in the mountains where they should be, and out of residential areas,” he said.

Looking ahead

In the 2023 cycle, Bear Smart Durango has applied for a $138,000 grant that Peterson said would cover phase two of the BWG’s multiyear Greater Durango Human-Bear Challenge Initiative.

If awarded, the grant would fund 300 residential bear-resistant trash containers for county residents, 100 residential bear-resistant trash containers for Southern Ute Indian Tribe members, and 20 additional food-storage lockers for San Juan National Forest campgrounds. The money would also support more mitigation tool kits and promotion of the bear hotline.

lveress@durangoherald.com



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